Pilates was developed by German born Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. It was mainly popularised in the United States, where Joseph moved to with his wife in 1923. It also became popular in the United Kingdom where he lived and trained others with his method early in his career.
Contrology is the term he used originally to describe the art of controlled movements of body, mind and spirit. He aimed for his students to acquire complete control of their bodies through repetition of specific exercises that would improve flexibility, strength and co-ordination. Pilates believed that body and mind were interrelated. The method puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, and developing a strong center, while improving coordination and balance. Pilates’ system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginner to advanced.
Part scientist, mechanical genius and anatomist, Joseph Pilates accompanied his method by a variety of equipment he referred to as “Apparatus.” The most known piece today, called the Reformer was designed to enhance the stretching, strengthening and alignment that started by the matwork. Eventually a full complement of equipment and accessories was designed by Pilates, including the Cadillac, Chair, Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel and Pedi-Pole.
Joseph trained many students through his studio in New York City who then opened up their own studios and over time modified the exercises into more modern versions that we see today. Rehabilitation specialists have adapted Pilates Contrology to match biomechanical principles and postural understanding. In 1980 six “principles of Pilates” were published that have been widely adopted—and adapted—by the wider community. The original six principles were concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing. There currently are several schools of practice some keeping true to Josephs original principles but others taking from a variety of other therapies and movement ideas to create more holistic practices.
The difference between Yoga and Pilates
People often ask if Pilates is like Yoga and I find myself saying “they are very similar mind body practices” but fundamentally there are some key differences.
Yoga is rooted in a spiritual, meditative practice, and many contemporary yoga classes choose to bring this element to the mat. Although Pilates is a mindful practice there is no chanting, finding your chakras or becoming in tune with your spiritual centre. Breathing is a key focus in both but where Yoga encourages a belly breath, Pilates develops a 3-dimensional breath into the ribs and diaphragm. If you are looking to relax, de-stress and restore then Yoga is more suitable and if you wish for better posture and a stronger core then Pilates is ideal.
In Pilates there is a strong focus on alignment where anatomical cues are used to gain a better understanding of the body and its mechanics. Yoga is less focused on the anatomy and mechanics of an exercise and more on positioning the body to achieve the ideal range of the pose. Pilates puts great emphasis on using the deep abs and pelvic floor to provide stability for the limbs to move three-dimensionally in space. While there are some aspects of yoga that relate to alignment, classes are more mindful than anatomical.
In yoga class, you can use specific props like blankets, blocks, or a strap to ease into poses, and Pilates mat work similarly uses props like flexbands, fitness circles and foam rollers. However, a large repertory of exercises in Pilates has been created on machines, like the Pilates reformer or Cadillac, which are vastly more intricate than the props used in yoga. The machines use heavy springs to create resistance and are incredibly versatile, taking the mat work to different levels — providing support to make exercises easier or adding resistance to challenge the muscles more. If people desire to tone and sculpt then the apparatus used in Pilates can do this to a higher degree than can be achieved in yoga.
Yoga is considerably more static than Pilates due to poses being held for a number of breaths, except for flowing methods of yoga like Vinyasa and Ashtanga which are more dynamic. Pilates classes generally are designed to flow from one move to another or to be performed in repetitions of 5-10. Most yoga classes are 75 to 90 minutes, while Pilates classes are generally an hour. Generally more calories are burned in Pilates and due to the muscle building possibilities in Pilates your metabolism can increase. Yoga can have the ability to slow down metabolism so if weight loss is a goal then yoga is not the best choice. However, yoga can have major positive effects on mood, stress and mental health by helping the mind to clear, focus and reflect.
Pilates has been used for many years in multiple fields of rehabilitation to assist better movement and reduction of pain. The Australian Physiotherapy & Pilates Institute, Stott Pilates and Polestar Pilates (I have been trained in the latter two) have been influenced in their content by Physiotherapists. Brent Anderson, who developed the Polestar method, believes the apparatus developed by Joseph Pilates can help restore faulty movement patterns and support those with injury to become more functional. Although Yoga can be fantastic for improving flexibility it is not generally promoted for back care and rehabilitation.
The two practices enrich each other greatly, and the more anatomically specific elements taught in Pilates enhance the more abstract images used in yoga. Focusing primarily on one method alone can lead to imbalances in that “yogis” can often become over flexible and less stable in their pelvis and spine while Pilates enthusiasts can often become tight and held in their core muscles which can leave them unable to “let go” and be more mobile. A combination of both methods would lead to a very balanced and controlled body.
About the Author
Author: Kelly Vanderboom
Kelly Vanderboom graduated with an Honours Degree in Kinesiology (Exercise Science) through McMaster University, Canada in 2001. Upon graduating Kelly worked with physiotherapists designing exercise rehabilitation for a variety of injuries. During this time, she became a Certified STOTT Pilates Instructor as well as a Personal Trainer Specialist with Canadian Fitness Professionals. Throughout the next 12 years Kelly progressed to working as an Elite Personal trainer, Studio/Gym manager for various locations, Exercise Rehabilitation Manager in a Sports Wellness Centre, and created her own Mobile Personal Training business delivering goal-oriented exercise to athletes, fitness enthusiasts and clients recovering from injury. Kelly is now a Fully Certified Instructor Trainer with STOTT PILATES and completed the training to be a Comprehensive Polestar Pilates Instructor. She is co-director of Witney Personal Trainers Ltd and Body Fit Solutions Ltd that deliver personal training and small studio classes in Witney, Oxfordshire. She loves blending the functional aspects of personal training with the core stability and balance of Pilates to create unique and effective programs. She is a rehabilitation specialist for post surgery, equestrians and sports injuries.